Ayi’s popularity calls for drastic action
As I tuck Elsa up in bed at night, I’ve started to play a little game. “What’s the BEST thing that happened today?” I’ll ask encouragingly. Sadly, all too often she comes up with the same answer: “Played with Ayi.”
Make no mistake: I’m delighted that Elsa and Ayi have such a close bond. It’s sweet that some days Elsa wanders into the kitchen just to say, “I love Ayi, Mummy.” But her unwavering devotion has also brought out in me the slightest hint of insecurity.
This feeling is reinforced by the fact that I can no longer understand what the two of them are saying. Elsa and Ayi jabber away, nonchalantly dropping “ne’s” and “ba’s” and sharing private jokes (which sometimes feel at my expense).
In order to penetrate this cozy twosome and score higher in our evening quiz, I now feel compelled to add ever more interesting activities to the afternoons Elsa and I spend together. I’ve stepped up our swimming, become a Fundazzle regular and acquired the Blue Zoo’s annual pass. At the time, Elsa is gratifyingly receptive to all these efforts. “Nice blue water,” she’ll remark approvingly. “Elsa having fun.” But still, when I pose the usual bedtime question, I am greeted again with “played with Ayi, Mummy.”
I’ll admit that, on certain occasions, I’ve resorted to playing dirty. Pop by the Kempinski hotel one afternoon, and you might well find Elsa and I hanging out in the deli, tucking into a bowl of Haagen Dazs’s finest chocolate ice cream. Well, she tucks in while I sip coffee (it’s a lot cheaper and you get a free biscuit). This does seem to do the trick: Ice cream displaces Ayi in our nocturnal ritual – but it’s not good for the wallet or the waistline.
Perhaps the most dignified course of action is simply to admit defeat. What does it matter if Elsa pads around the flat in the plastic pig slippers Ayi bought her, a miniature version of her slipper-sporting heroine? Do I really care that Ayi’s tiger roar is far superior to my own feeble mewing? And I’ve always known that I am a lousy cook – it’s quite natural that Elsa should push aside my dodgy pasta dish and insist on sharing Ayi’s lunch, which Ayi doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she’s started bringing extra food, with a full understanding of Elsa’s preferences.
So I’m left to comfort myself instead with tiny crumbs of my daughter’s adoration. If Elsa is still sleepy when Ayi arrives in the morning, she prefers to nestle against my shoulder – if only till she’s sufficiently awake to get her priorities straight. As the taxi pulls up at our destination, she’ll often praise me – “clever Mummy!” – as if it was all my doing (which, given many Beijing taxi drivers’ unfamiliarity with major road names, it sometimes is). And coming back from work, my key rattling in the door usually elicits an excited squeal.
This is surely evidence that I’m not completely redundant, I tell myself. Children’s ingratitude is simply the nature of things, and after all, love’s not supposed to be about what you get, but what you give. I guess it’s a sign of maturity that I am beginning to recognize this.
Now, where’s that ice cream?